It usually starts like this: Your child has a regular, run-of-the-mill cold for about a week. Just when you think it should be clearing up, it gets worse. She’s got a slight fever, her throat is sore, her nose is running, her body aches and she’s coughing non-stop. Although it helps to know that a chest cold — also known as acute bronchitis — typically clears up within a couple of weeks, you still want to do everything you can to ease your child’s symptoms in the meantime. If your pediatrician recommends it, an over-the-counter cough medication can provide much needed relief.
Most chest colds don’t require antibiotics because they’re usually caused by viruses. Because avirus must run its course, treatments including OTC cough and cold medications are designed to soothe symptoms, not put an end to them. Many children’s OTC cold medicines are made to relieve multiple symptoms like a cough, chest congestion, nasal congestion, runny nose, fever and a sore throat. Products that help loosen chest congestion often contain guaifenesin, an expectorant that helps break up mucus so it’s easier to cough up. Products labeled as cough suppressants are designed to relieve a dry cough or one that doesn’t produce mucus.
If taking a trip down the cold and flu aisle at your local retailer leaves you feeling confused about which OTC medication is right for your child, just consider his symptoms. If he’s been hit hard with a fever, stuffy nose, chest congestion and a non-stop cough, you’ll want an OTC that covers all the bases, such as Children’s Mucinex® Multi-Symptom Cold & Fever Liquid. If he doesn’t have a fever, Children’s Mucinex® Multi-Symptom Cold Liquid is a better choice,because it doesn’t contain a fever-reducer. When your child is coughing up phlegm but doesn’t really have any other symptoms, Children’s Mucinex® Cough Liquid is the best option, as it contains only the medicine he needs to ease his symptoms.
You should never give OTC cough and cold medicine to infants or children younger than four years old. Such medications can cause serious adverse side effects — including rapid heart rate, convulsions and even death — in babies and small children. That’s why manufacturers don’t provide dosing information for children younger than four; certain products aren’t designed or recommended for children younger than six years old.
You can still provide plenty of relief for an infant or child who is too young to take OTC medicine. Keeping your child hydrated promotes thin, flowing mucus, while running a cool-mist humidifier helps loosen congestion. A rubber suction bulb will help clear nasal mucus.
Once you have the go-ahead from your pediatrician to use OTC medication to help manage your child’s chest cold symptoms, it’s important to understand the basic dos and don’ts of safe use.
- Use a medicine that treats only the symptoms your child has, so you won’t be over-medicating her.
- Consider your OTC cough and cold medicine to be an “as needed” treatment, meaning you give it to your child only when her symptoms are present and they’re making her uncomfortable.
- Read the label carefully, paying attention to special instructions and possible side effects.
- Follow dosing instructions exactly, using the measuring device provided by the manufacturer.
- Record each time you give your child a dose, and don’t give her more than the recommended number of doses in a day.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Bronchitis (Chest Cold)
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Acute Bronchitis in Children
- Kids Health: Coughing
- Kids Health from Nemours: Medication Safety
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: OTC Cough and Cold Products — Not for Infants and Children Under 2 Years of Age
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Cough and Cold Medicine — Not for Children
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Symptom Relief